As much as some might think the NBA is a largely American sport in terms of the nationality of its players, it’s well and truly a global league, with players from China, Australia and Lithuania (among other countries) having come to North America and not only played there, but succeeded. The home of the only non-American team in the league is quickly becoming no exception to this, as more and more Canadians have been drafted into the NBA in recent years. With that in mind, we’ll be counting down the top 10 Canadian players in the league based on their salary for the 2014-15 season.
If nothing else, this new wave of Canadian ballers is proof that the game in Canada is growing more now than ever. If you need further convincing, you only have to take a look back on the massive throng of fans that descended on Maple Leaf Square in Toronto – a.k.a. Jurassic Park – to watch the Toronto Raptors take on the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of last season’s playoffs. Not only that, but the slogan of “We the North” caught on like wildfire among diehard and casual Raptors fans alike. In fact, Canada is starting to produce quality basketball players (Tyler Ennis and Dwight Powell are among those, but are excluded because their contract figures have not yet been released or have not been signed) at such a high rate to the extent that the Cleveland Cavaliers for a period of time had four of them on their team.
While some of these players are bit-part bench players at best for their teams, others are young up-and-comers who have the potential to make a huge impact on the league, and another is a seasoned veteran who’s one of the best point guards of his generation – if not of all time. Canada’s presence in the NBA is growing, and will only keep doing so. Here are the 10 highest-paid Canadian ballers in the NBA.
10 Andrew Nicholson -- $1.5 million in 2014/15
Although he was a latecomer as far as when he started playing basketball – he didn’t start playing competitively until Grade 11 – Orlando Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson has certainly got his career off to a decent start. The native of Mississauga is making $1.5 million this season with the Magic, and put up 5.7 points per game in addition to 3.4 rebounds per game. An alum of St. Bonaventure University in New York, he’s won several individual awards in the Atlantic 10 during his college days despite having yet to prove himself in the NBA. However, he’s got time to move up the Magic’s depth chart and he’s already made it to the Canadian national team.
9 Kelly Olynyk -- $2.1 million in 2014/15
For a player who’s only averaged about 20 minutes a game, Kelly Olynyk has been putting up respectable numbers on one of the most storied teams in the NBA. In his rookie season, the power forward put up 8.7 points per game as well as 5.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Born in Toronto but raised in Kamloops, BC and making $2.1 million this season, Olynyk has been a mainstay for the Canadian national team despite only being drafted into the league last year, first playing for Canada at the 2010 FIBA World Championships. He played for Canada again the following year, in a sixth-pace finish at the FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina.
8 Cory Joseph -- $2.1 million in 2014/15
This Toronto native was taken at the tail end of the first round of his draft year at 29th overall in 2011, and although Cory Joseph has been little more than a bit-part player for the San Antonio Spurs as he approaches his fourth season in the NBA, he’s already accomplished more than a lot of other basketball players can boast. In other words, he already has a championship ring. A member of the Spurs’ NBA title-winning team last season, the $2.1 million-making Joseph averaged five points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game this past seasons while playing only 13.8 minutes per game.
7 Nik Stauskas -- $2.7 million in 2014/15
A longtime Raptors fan – in fact, ESPN The Magazine claimed that the beginning of his journey may have been attributed to him being born seven days after Toronto being awarded an NBA team – Nik Stauskas has now got to prove that his being selected eighth overall by the Sacramento Kings in this year’s draft was far from a fluke. The shooting guard from Mississauga – who makes $2.7 million this season – will likely be given his chance to shine on a team that finished again toward the Eastern Conference cellar. If his college achievements are anything to go by – he was named an NCAA All-American as well as the Big Ten Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year – he’ll be off to a good start.
6 Joel Anthony -- $3.8 million in 2014/15
Although he’s been a bench player for the entirety of his NBA career, Joel Anthony was a mainstay on the Miami Heat roster up until his trade earlier this year to the Boston Celtics, as well as a constant with the Canadian national team. Oh yeah, and he’s managed to win two NBA championship rings in the process. Nicknamed “The Warden”, this $3.8 million-making Montreal native has been known for his defensive abilities despite not playing many minutes and going undrafted. It’s unknown how often he’ll get to play under Brad Stevens this upcoming season for the Celtics, but this centre remains one of the biggest NBA names to come out of Canada over the last decade.
5 Samuel Dalembert -- $3.9 million in 2014/15
Samuel Dalembert has had a bit of an unusual journey in terms of how he made it to the United States as well as to the NBA. Having been born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and then moving to Montreal when he was 14, the 6’11” centre (who makes $3.9 million this season) has managed to put up some solid seasons for the teams he’s played for since 2001, putting up 10.7 points per game in a career season for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2006-07. Now a member of the New York Knicks, Dalembert has been switching teams a lot more often lately, but his reputation in terms of Canadian basketball is positive despite him having been kicked off the Canadian national team in 2008 after feuding with then-head coach Leo Rautins.
4 Tristan Thompson -- $5.4 million in 2014/15
You could argue that an unusual amount of pressure was placed on Tristan Thompson’s shoulders when he was selected fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011. However, the Brampton, Ontario native can perhaps breathe a bit easier thanks to the fact that he not the only Canuck on the team, and that Kyrie Irving and the recently returned LeBron James are leading the way for the Cavs for this upcoming NBA season. But this power forward has been no slouch, and with a salary of $5.4 million this season, he’s being rewarded for his contributions on the court. Thompson has put up 11.7 points per game the last two seasons, and it remains to be seen if he can up his total.
3 Andrew Wiggins -- $5.5 million in 2014/15
A native of Thornhill, Ontario, this Cavaliers shooting guard has been compared to former Raptor Tracy McGrady, and rightfully so. However, as much as he has been hyped leading up to his rookie season in the NBA, Wiggins has recently been implicated in a trade that will see him and teammate Anthony Bennett travel to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love. That said, he remains a highly valued Canadian player and the $5.5 million-making 19-year-old still has big expectations to live up to as he now has a chip on his shoulder from being dealt away just as hometown boy LeBron James comes back to Cleveland.
2 Anthony Bennett -- $5.6 million in 2014/15
Any first overall pick has a certain amount of weight on their shoulders, and that usually translates to them being expected to live up to the pressure that comes with being taken number one. However, Brampton native Anthony Bennett has not lived up to such pressure; being labelled already as one of the worst number one picks in recent memory thanks to his weak rookie season where he scored only 5.2 points and three rebounds per game. While it may be too early to label him as such since his career has just begun, it’s certainly cause for concern for the $5.6 million-making power forward.
1 Steve Nash -- $9.7 million in 2014/15
What is there to say about Steve Nash that hasn’t already been said about him throughout his career? Not only has he been an eight-time NBA All-Star, but he’s been an NBA MVP twice, a three-time All-NBA first-teamer, and he’s been named to the Order of Canada. All that’s left for the Victoria native to accomplish is to win an NBA title. However, he’ll be 41 by the time the 2014-15 NBA season is finished, so time is clearly running out. But whether he wins one or not, Nash - who makes $9.7 million this season – will go down in history as the greatest Canuck to ever don a jersey in this league.